Trim Defense to Save It
I am looking at a rose bush in the flower bed outside. The plant is huge, sick, and doesn’t bloom like it should. It is badly in need of trimming but I’m afraid if I do so I will kill it. Much similar to what many Americans think will happen if we cut unnecessary waste at the Pentagon, even as weapons get fewer and more complicated, even as they get more expensive and defense spending is abnormally high. Here is economist Diane Lim Rogers at the Christian Science Monitor who explains “Why a tightened defense budget would improve national security“:
First, I think most Americans (regardless of what they think of our wars and military activity more generally) assume that cuts in the defense/national security budget would weaken our defense capabilities–that a tradeoff exists between deficit reduction and a strong defense. But what surprised me the most at the Naval War College conference was my learning that most of these national security officials and experts, who all advocate for a strong defense, believed that if the defense budget were tightened (and all seemed to recognize that given our fiscal situation, such tightening is inevitable), the quality of defense spending would actually improve. There was a clear message–from even those in uniform(!)at this conference–that more binding budget constraints would force national security policymakers to better prioritize. Instead of just trying everything, they would need to put scarce dollars where they would have the most benefit. They would find it worthwhile to eliminate wasteful spending, and improved strategic planning would become more a necessity rather than just an option.
There is just one hindrance to cutting defense (well, two if you count the defense industry screaming if they don’t continue building outdated and expensive weapons, they will lose the skill to build outdated and expensive weapons). Most politicians fear to wield the axe against the soldiers for patriotism’s sake. In other words, they don’t want to appear weak on military spending. Rogers didn’t have a clear answer to this problem, but noted:
So like the deficit spending we do on tax expenditures that are not successful in achieving their ostensible purposes, the deficit spending we do on wasteful or redundant defense programs tends to get a free pass because of the politics. In theory, the fiscal policy and national security experts say there’s a lot of room to spend less money more wisely–and not just spend less money but actually strengthen the economy and strengthen our national security.
Note that the last point could also be said about social spending and the deficit, that when fiscal economists want to cut domestic spending to balance the budget they are accused of things like “starving the poor” or “neglecting our children”. All very hurtful and effective tactics to hinder the overall health of our economy which does directly effect the poor, the children, and our national security. My advice to the policymakers, steel yourselves and do what you were elected to do!